When Kobe Bryant was diagnosed with a fractured left leg in mid-December, he was originally pegged to be out for six weeks of playing time. He’s actually missed twice as many weeks, and mostly as a result of this his Los Angeles Lakers have dived deep into the Western Conference’s basement, losing 29 of 39 games since the announcement and working with a record that has them on pace to earn both the West’s worst record in 2013-14 and a top-five pick in this June’s NBA draft.
This is part of the reason why many Laker fans wouldn’t mind if their favorite player sat out for the rest of the season, because with injuries decimating Lakers both famous and fringe, Bryant’s return would only serve to potentially alter those top lottery hopes, and possibly set the 35-year-old’s recovery process back.
No worries, nervous Laker fans. It appears as if Bryant is no closer to a comeback from this fracture than he was back in December. From the Los Angeles Daily News:
“It’s progressing slowly. It really tests my patience,” Bryant said in a recent interview with Jacques Slade from Kustoo.com that mostly centered on Bryant's work with Nike. ”There’s only so much I can do. I find myself relegated to a bike. The first few weeks, it’s cool. I’m getting a good workout in. Third or fourth, I’m thinking I need to do something else. I want to play. I want to run. I want to do something different. But you got to do what you got to do.”
Bryant has long been noted as perhaps this league’s most dogged competitor, and even though these sorts of nebulous titles are hard to prove without magic crystals and a Geiger Counter, it’s hard to dismiss the man’s intensity. So Bryant is basically punting a season in order to secure more chances at drafting a very good young player who likely isn’t old enough to share a decanter of vino with Mr. Bryant, one that Kobe may kick around (MJ-style) in practice next year? That seems unlike the guy.
Kobe doesn’t tank. Even if he came close toward the end of the wasted and injury-plagued 2004-05 season, one that led to Los Angeles drafting Andrew Bynum.
No, what is more likely is that Bryant genuinely is dealing with what is more or less an unprecedented injury for both him, and the NBA-styled doctors and rehabilitators he’s working with. You just don’t see many fractures like these at the NBA level, which is why it’s completely understandable that this six-week prognosis has turned into something far more lengthy and frustrating.
Remember, six weeks following that diagnosis, Steve Nash was readying for his return in a few days, Pau Gasol was coming off of a killer month of basketball, and the Lakers seemed prime to be, at the very least, competitive. It wasn’t as if he called this party off a month and a half ago under terrifying Laker circumstances.
Bryant explained the weirdness of the injury in the interview with Kustoo.com:
“These injuries are really weird. I’ve never had this kind of fracture before. You’re almost at the mercy of the bones. There’s nothing you can do to speed up that process. You almost have to sit and just wait and wait for the bones to heal and then go from there.”
Waiting for the bones to heal – that’s pretty much par for the course for any broken bone, so we’re not exactly hearing anything new. What we are dealing with, regarding this lateral tibial plateau fracture, is something you just don’t see a lot of NBA athletes working through. Especially 35-year-old ones, coming off an Achilles' tear, working with wheels that have played more than a combined 54,000 regular and postseason minutes in a storied career that often stretches from October to June each season.
That Achilles' tear, and the idea that Bryant would play a (relatively) poor 10 games from April 2013 to October 2014, is the reason I think Kobe should at least attempt to play a few token games to close out 2013-14 – health permitting, of course. As great as he can be, Bryant won’t be winning any games for the Lakers by his lonesome down the stretch, so he’s not likely to sway the team’s lottery odds in the wrong direction. He would be able to test the leg, though, and get a few reps in before another long summer sparks up.
Though 2014 would mark his fourth long summer in a row, Bryant still isn’t used to such things, which is why the Lakers and Kobe need a bit of good cheer heading into a Laker-less playoff season. And Bryant, ever the competitor, would seem keen on following through with as much.
Will that fractured left leg let him? We’ve got five weeks left to surmise just that.
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